Dinged By The Donkey

Picture by illinoisreview.typepad.com

Picture by illinoisreview.typepad.com

Do you ever play golf at a course and know before you tee off you’re going to play bad?  Does this happen at a course that is a repeat offender?  It does for me and happened again yesterday.  Why do these nemesis courses hold a spell over us and what can we do about it?  Do you have any strategies?

The Plan:  I ventured out to Poolesville, a seemingly innocuous municipal track in western Montgomery County, where I never play well.  My approach would be to play it while in the midst of a hot streak and hope my good play would carry over for the day.  The game plan was to warm up exactly as I had for my two previous rounds: chip, putt, hit range balls, and go.

I knew I was in trouble after my first chip on the practice green rolled 30 feet past the flag and off the surface.  The greens were lightning fast, and the first three rounds of the season I had played on slow to medium speed greens.  So the entire time I was warming up on the range, I was thinking, “How am I going to handle these fast greens?”  Coincidentally, I didn’t strike it well while warming up.  See anything wrong with this picture?

So off I went and I immediately short-sided myself with my approach on #1.  I flubbed a pitch shot which led to a double.  It seems I double this first hole every time out, which is a source of frustration and is always in the back of my mind.  Fast forward after six holes and I was 8-over with three doubles on the card, and I got downright mad because this meaningless muni was beating me down like a rented mule.  The course was totally in my head.

The adjustment:  When your game goes to crap you can either give up or change something.  Never give up.  Usually, I’ll make one of two types of adjustments depending on how bad the garbage smells.  If my head is full of swing thoughts, I’ll dump them all and just fire at the target, but this wasn’t a swing pretzel day.  I wasn’t hitting it well, but the culprit was poor course management.  The second type of adjustment is to mentally start over.  I quickly recalled a comment a reader once made about a round they had played with Mike Weir.  They said that Mike was playing this particular course for the first time and didn’t make a putt all day, but shot 67 because he never missed a green in the wrong spot.  Exactly the reminder I needed.  So I drew a line on the scorecard after the sixth hole to represent a restart on #7, and scribbled out three words:  “BELOW THE HOLE” on the card.  I find that if you place a visual reminder somewhere, it often works to solidify and reinforce a commitment you need to make and I needed to stop shooting at the flags and ensure that when I missed my targets, they missed in the right spots.

There’s a lot to be said for good course management even if it means playing more defensively.  After the adjustment, I went into stability mode and played the last 12 holes in 3-over par (2-over on the back nine while only hitting one green in regulation).  At the end of the day, the carnage wasn’t too bad but the course had won again.  Next time out, I’ll be armed with some better course management strategies and hopefully will be able to clear all remaining mental baggage.  I’m gonna get you Poolesville!

 

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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6 Responses to Dinged By The Donkey

  1. Brian,

    That is a great tool to use after a bad start, to somehow hit the reset button with some sort of visual or mental aid. I have yet to use the line on the scorecard trick, but will keep it in mind. It can also be used after a hot start to help stay calm and in the moment. Glad to hear you turned it around and steadied the ship. I had a similar situation during my first round of the year at my home course. I started +6 through 5 but didn’t feel like I was swinging poorly. I was just forcing it trying to get the season off to a hot start. I convinced myself that those first 5 were just my warmup being the first round of the season and focused on just putting the ball in good spots, and I played the remaining holes in only a couple over. Even though horrific starts can be disappointing, it can be really satisfying turning an 85 into something respectable.

    Cheers
    Josh

    • Brian Penn says:

      Josh, it’s amazing how fleeting momentum is in golf. You can get it and lose it so fast that hitting a mental reset is a valuable tool. I’ve only used it a few times and suspect the more you rely on it the less effective it will be.

      Thanks!

      Brian

  2. Hi Brian, I like your attitude, go get it next time.

    Pete

  3. Brian

    Great post about course management and being mentally strong. Pushing the reset button is a great way to change your thoughts…change your world! I to have a course I am mentally weak at, but next time, I will use your advice and hit the reset button when required. God luck against poles ills next time!

    Cheers
    Jim

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